Clutter accumulates so quietly, so insidiously, we may not even notice until it's gotten out of control. Suddenly, we're surrounded by so much debris from our past -- from dried-up tubes of Krazy Glue to old grudges -- that it's a wonder we can even get out of bed in the morning.
As a life coach, Gail Blanke helps people figure out not only what they want most, but what they need to let go of to discover who they really are -- the "stuff" in closets, drawers, attics, and so on. This is her room-by-room guide to figuring out what you really need and what you don't.
Before you begin, gather the following materials:
(This plan is adapted from the book "Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear Your Clutter, Find Your Life." Copyright 2009 by Gail Blanke. Reprinted by permission of Springboard Press, New York, NY. All rights reserved.)
Since who you are begins with how you see yourself, the place to start spring-cleaning is your bedroom. After all, that's where you keep the clothes, jewelry, and accessories that collectively represent your identity to the world.
How would you describe your style? What would you like to change or update? Finding (or in some cases, reinventing) your best self begins with identifying the "you" that you want to present to the world -- and that involves clearing out the clutter. You can always revisit some old looks later if the spirit moves you. But right now, we're moving forward.
Let go of feelings of inadequacy. Let go of the tendency to compare yourself with others. Forget the phrase "as good as" altogether. Decide to appreciate who you are and what you contribute to the people and the world around you.
We all have things we don't want anymore but simply haven't taken the time to purge. What obvious clothing items, handbags, or dated cosmetics have to go? Start with unused or broken costume jewelry (do you really think you'll find that other earring?), matchless socks and gloves, company shirts and hats from your last job, and shoes that haven't seen the light of day in a year. Gather up these things and put them in a pile.
Look at what you've purged and decide where it all will go. Mark boxes destined for Goodwill, reusing (old socks make great dusters), passing along (your friend Susie might like that old bracelet), or the trash, and sort the piles accordingly. Put shoes, old jewelry, and small accessories into boxes or resealable plastic bags, and label everything with your sticky notes and waterproof pen. To avoid having the boxes sit around (more clutter!), go, right now, and deliver them to their respective destinations.
Storage spaces are bittersweet places. That's why we spend years talking about how we have to go up (or down) there and throw stuff out, but somehow never get around to it. These rooms house things we don't know what to do with, such as old mattresses and box springs, fading photographs, and mementos.
But it's not just simple clutter; it's also chock-full of memories, items that call up good times and bad, all of which elicit emotions. Clearing out the clutter comes down to deciding why you're keeping what's there.
We've all had those middle-of-the-night moments when we castigate ourselves for not knowing better, not trying harder, not being perfect. But if you spend all your energy reliving things that didn't work, and you'll have no energy for finding new ways to be fulfilled.
House only the positive memories. Anything that reminds you of a difficult or negative experience or a time when you felt bad has to go. No matter how valuable it is, what we surround ourselves with -- even if it's stashed way up in the attic -- influences our thinking.
Desk clutter can prove physically and mentally overwhelming. Sure, you need a place to put bills, but your desk is also mission control for your life and your career. How much of this stuff has anything to do with who you are now and who you're becoming?
This is where your "brand" comes in. When you know who you are at your core and what distinguishes you, you can more easily let go of the stuff that no longer "fits." What's your brand's promise? What do you love doing, and what are you committed to delivering every time? Maybe it's your ability to come up with fresh ideas, to connect with people, or to solve the unsolvable. Anything and everything that doesn't fit with that description is ripe for the decluttering bins -- both mental and physical.
Let go, for a moment, of the need to feel secure:You can't grow if you stay in your comfort zone. Step into the unknown. Release your need for guarantees. Your life will evolve into something better than you can imagine, if you give it half a chance.
Start with the surfaces. What's taking up precious real estate that you don't need or even use regularly? Remove everything and put back only the must-haves: pens, paper, a datebook, checkbook, calculator, and so on. Take a fresh look at the tchotchkes and photographs -- even the container you keep your pens in. If you no longer like them, share them with people who could use them, or post them on craigslist.org or freecycle.com to find others who want them.
Of course, some paperwork needs to stay: bank statements (only what you need for tax purposes); bills (one year); credit-card records (seven years); pay stubs (one year, then shred once you've received your W-2 form); tax returns and records (seven years). But feel okay with shredding the rest.
We are what we surround ourselves with. And that goes for our bathrooms, which are jammed with things that may influence us in less-than-healthy ways. Take a look inside your medicine cabinet. Chances are you'll find some dried-out tubes of personal-care products and bottles of over-the-counter drugs whose expiration dates have long since passed.
It doesn't seem healthful -- physically or mentally -- to keep this stuff around. Who wants to be reminded of old ailments? So you have to decide whether you need to keep these things "just in case," or if you intend to be well and not need them again. If you actually intend to be well, then decide, right here, right now, how you're going to create that reality.
Let go of unhealthy assumptions: If we intend to be well, then we have to create that reality. What notions do you have about your health? Do you assume you'll never lose those last 10 pounds? That you'll throw your back out again? Write down all the things that stand in the way of your well-being, and let them go.
After their expiration dates have passed, certain medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) may lose their potency and no longer work. Anything that's quite visibly old (crusty, sticky, oozing) should go. Don't flush pills down the toilet, as this could contaminate the water supply; ask your pharmacist about how to dispose of them properly.
How do you decide what to throw out? Keep these three key guidelines in mind:
1. If it (the pair of shoes, the hat, the picture, the memory) weighs you down, clogs you up, or just plain makes you feel bad about yourself, throw it out, give it away, sell it, let it go, and move on.
2. If it just sits there, taking up room and contributing nothing positive to your life, let it go. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward.
3. If you agonize over it for too long, throw it out. Don't make the decision -- whether to toss it or keep it -- a hard one.